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Top Bloggers: Kris Willis On The Hawks

Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Magic with Zach Oliver, managing editor of SB Nation’s Orlando Pinstriped PostClick here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.

Next up is Kris Willis, managing editor of SB Nation’s Peachtree Hoops, a Hawks blog. You can follow Kris on Twitter at @Kris_WillisClick here to check out his stories.

Hoops Rumors: The Hawks can open up approximately $20MM in cap room if they let Kent Bazemore walk as a free agent this summer. Bazemore is certainly in line for a decent raise over the $2MM he earned this season, which means Atlanta will have a difficult call to make. Do you think the team should re-sign him, and if so, how much will it need to pony up to keep him?

Kris Willis: There are a lot of similarities in Kent Bazemore’s situation and that of DeMarre Carroll‘s last offseason. Unfortunately for the Hawks, it could play out the same way with Bazemore signing a more lucrative deal elsewhere. Atlanta values its continuity, so I am sure they would like to keep Bazemore. However, the asking price is going to be high and that may limit what the Hawks can do in other areas to improve the club. Since Bazemore is on the final year of a two-year deal, the Hawks don’t have full Bird rights. Re-signing him will mean cutting into a good portion of what cap space they will have available.

Carroll ended up getting around $15MM a season. I still don’t have a good feel for what the cap explosion is going to mean for contracts. I have seen things that suggest that Bazemore could get anywhere from $12-15MM annually which to me seems high and may ultimately lead the Hawks to go searching for the next Kent Bazemore.

Still I think there is interest from both sides to keep him in Atlanta. If the Hawks do invest heavily in Bazemore, I’d like to see him playing more at the shooting guard position with the team bringing in a bigger option to help at small forward.

Hoops Rumors: Both Dennis Schröder and Jeff Teague are under contract for two more seasons. Which point guard should the team focus on retaining and building around? Why?

Kris Willis: Next to Al Horford‘s free agency, I expect this to be one of the biggest storylines of the offseason. The Hawks were rumored to be gauging the value of both players at the trade deadline. While Teague and Schröder are a solid one-two punch for the team, this is an area of strength and might be a way the team can shore up deficiencies in other areas.

Teague has been the engine that drives the Hawks for the last two seasons. He was an All-Star in 2015 and was the driving force behind the team’s good play down the stretch this season. He is still young enough to have some value but is going to be looking for a big contract when his current deal expires at the end of next season.

I think the smart choice is to pick Schröder, whose upside is higher than Teague’s and is currently a younger and cheaper option. He has been inconsistent at times, but he may not realize his potential playing as a backup. The Hawks could opt to deal him as well, but his smaller salary will limit the return. At any rate, this is an area of strength that the Hawks have, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see one of Teague or Schröder dealt this summer.

Hoops Rumors: Horford’s numbers this season are remarkably similar to what he put up in 2014/15, which is a positive omen as he heads into free agency this offseason. Given the expected salary cap surge and likely competition from other teams, should the Hawks break the bank if necessary to keep him, considering big men don’t traditionally hold up well once they enter their 30s and he turns 30 in June?

Kris Willis: I have felt for a while now that this summer will be a pivotal offseason for the Atlanta Hawks franchise. The biggest decision they have to make is what to do with Horford. I have no doubts that he is going to get a max offer, and if Atlanta wants to keep him, that is most likely what it is going to take. His value goes beyond the stats. He is still today the single most important player on the team and is the team’s anchor on the defensive end of the floor. If the Hawks don’t keep Horford, then they are going to take a sizeable step back next season, and I have argued that it would be time to clear the deck if that happened.

Still, is it smart to pay max money to a big man who will be 30 in June? Probably not, but if the team wants to continue to retool on the fly and maintain their recent success, I think that it is likely that they will give Horford whatever it takes to keep him.

Hoops Rumors: The draft-night trade for Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t quite pay off for the Hawks this season as he was buried on the bench for much of the year. What are your thoughts on the trade, given the benefit of hindsight, and what can Atlanta expect from the swingman next season?

Kris Willis: I was intrigued with the move on draft night simply because I wanted to know what Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox saw in Hardaway that the rest of us didn’t. I was very high on Bobby Portis in last year’s draft, but it was pretty obvious that the Hawks weren’t blown away by anyone.

Hardaway has had an interesting season. I thought he’d likely get multiple chances early simply because they paid such a high price to acquire him, but he opened the season on the inactive list and had to earn his way on the court. The results, particularly in the second half of the season, have been positive.

I think it is still kind of hard to say if it was the right move or not, but I believe Hardaway will have the opportunity to play a much bigger role for the team next season.

Hoops Rumors: The Hawks are one potential destination for Dwight Howard, especially if Horford departs as a free agent. Would Howard be a good fit in Atlanta, and if not, whom should the team target in the event Horford doesn’t re-sign?

Kris Willis: The Dwight Howard rumors were circulating around the trade deadline but I never bought into them very much. I think Howard would be a very risky investment due to his age and his injury history. Horford has been hurt as well, but Howard has had issues with his back and knee, and I think that raises a few more red flags.

Some in Atlanta clamor for a more traditional center, and Howard’s presence alone would help with the Hawks’ rebounding issues. However, I question the fit offensively and think the risk is too high to heavily invest in a player like Howard.

Hoops Rumors: Venturing into the purely hypothetical for a moment, if you were given the opportunity to reverse one decision (signing/draft pick/trade) the Hawks have made over the past three years, what would you change?

Kris Willis: There are a couple of things that come to mind. When Danny Ferry signed Paul Millsap and Carroll to short two-year deals, we celebrated the contracts for the value and the flexibility. However, it turned out that both players outperformed the deals to such a degree that the team couldn’t keep both due to not having their full Bird rights. I don’t know if it was possible to get either Millsap or Carroll on a longer deal but that would have made a big difference last offseason and would have likely kept a 60-win club together.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this interview.

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One thought on “Top Bloggers: Kris Willis On The Hawks

  1. Arthur Hill

    The Rockets’ decision to reduce Howard’s role in the offense is leading a lot of people to think he can’t be productive on that end of the floor anymore. It may hold down his offers in free agency.

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